Arute saw very quickly the problems that had forced Barlow to sell. Just as quickly, he reacted and set the course for Stafford, ordering new grandstands, putting 12 foot paved safety aprons in the corners, paving the Paddock area, increasing the purses and building new press facilities.
With the help of Slater and his son Jack, Jr., Arute pressured NASCAR for rules changes that would increase the sport's popularity. He saw the need for NASCAR Modifieds to enter the 70's. Fans no longer could identify with the pre-war coupes and lobbied for NASCAR to approve more modern bodies like the Pintos, Vegas and Gremlins that fans drove on the highways.
Armed with NASCAR's approval, Arute started what is now called the "Pinto Revolution" and moved onto his next project. Years of attending the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 convinced Arute that while Stafford could never duplicate the heritage of these two races, it could take the lure of these great events, mix it with the desire of drivers to someday compete on such a professional level and establish Stafford Motor Speedway as an entrance to the road to stardom.
Stafford drew upon the success of Pete Hamiltons and Denny Zimmermans to enthuse their competitors. The track introduced pre-race activities that duplicated some of the "big league" presentations by instituting formal Victory Lanes, hiring multiple announcers, pacing all events with a pace car , originating radio programs, etc.
On the track, NASCAR's modifieds were at their zenith. The open wheeled nature of the cars coupled with the newer bodies captured the fan's imagination and the caliber of competition was unparalleled.
The message to competitors was simple. If you wanted to be the best, you raced against the best...at Stafford. Regulars like Bugs Stevens, Fred DeSarro, Eddie Flemke, Richie Evans and Charlie Jarzombek held court at Stafford and fended off all outsiders. They were to be soon tested by two drivers who sought their turf; Maynard Troyer and Geoff Bodine.
Troyer found limited success by commuting from his upstate New York home weekly. Bodine on the other hand moved to New England, joined forces with jewelry manufacturer Dick Armstrong and over the course of 5 years enjoyed many trips to Stafford's Victory Lane.
By the early 80's Stafford had a new aspirant to national stardom. Bodine left for the Southland and pursuit of his dream..a Winston Cup ride. Shortly thereafter, another Stafford regular followed the road South. Ron Bouchard joined forces with Connecticut businessman Jack BeeBee, and brought New England into the spotlight by winning the Talladega 500 in 1981.
The accomplishments of Bouchard and Bodine attracted new aspirants to Stafford. Jimmy Spencer, Todd Bodine, Brett Bodine and Greg Sacks raced Stafford and read about their former teammates national accomplishments.
How strong was the lure of Stafford? When Wally Dallenbach, Jr. approached his father Wally Sr. (CART Chief Steward) about pursuing a professional career in motor racing, the elder Dallenbach told his son to build a modified and despite a 10-hour round trip tow from his home in New Jersey, join the Modified ranks at Stafford Motor Speedway!
Winston Cup drivers knew of Stafford's reputation as well. Dale Earnhardt visited in 1985 and failed to win! The Late Tim Richmond and Cale Yarborough followed their friend Ron Bouchard back to Stafford one night. Richmond was so taken by the track's modifieds that he asked for and got a ride in one. After starting near to last in the 30-lap feature that night, Richmond piloted the car under the checkered flag to score a win!
A link to NASCAR's major leagues was now well established. Mike Mclaughlin and Jeff Fuller used Stafford to jump their careers and so did young Steve Park, who secured a Busch Series and eventual Winston Cup ride with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
Stafford's success was not without its share of controversial decisions. When Arute first took title to the property, he outlawed an engine combination that only he and several other well healed owners possessed; the Aluminum 454 cubic inch Chevrolet engine. The decision caused the break up of his decades old partnership with the Garuti Brothers and sent a message that would become another cornerstone to Arute's custodialship over Modified racing.
Jack Sr. believed that in order to ensure the prosperity of the division, he would sometimes have to leave conventional wisdom to others and strike out in directions that might cause short term hardship for some, yet deliver long term success to all.
Tires were his next target. Weekly competitors were often spending as much on tires as the available purse money. While the tire companies engaged in wars for brand supremacy, the individual competitors suffered. Arute's first attempt at stemming the tire battle was to limit the tire's size. In order to show his conviction, Arute gambled with his biggest annual event, the Spring Sizzler and declared that a tire size rule would go into effect. The Sizzler resulted in typical Stafford door-to-door competition, but a fan boycott left the attendance well below that of past "Sizzlers". Reluctantly, Arute rescinded his tire rule later in the 1974 season after consulting with his competitors and all returned to normal.
The die was cast though and by the late 70's Jack Arute, Sr. sensed a shift in opinion regarding tires. He boldly instituted a one-brand, one-compound tire rule at the track. The results validated Arute's decision. Car counts increased and competition did likewise.
The tire companies fought back though and brought suit against Arute for alleged restraint of trade. In an effort to enhance their litigation, the tire giants named several other tracks that employed the one-brand, one-compound concept. The off track litigation sharply divided the racing community and left Stafford in the lead role of defending the position as well as putting the track heavily at risk for another fan boycott.
Crowd counts were down, but Arute stood firm. A trial and several appeals later the case was concluded. The one-brand, one-compound tire rule was upheld. Now, such a rule is accepted as a key element to successful short track operations. Critics say that Arute's principles border on stubbornness. Others have accused him of fantasy and folly. None, ever questioned his commitment.
When Stafford decided to change their modified rules to develop more affordable racing formula, critics and opponents alike saw the depth of Arute's commitment. Modifieds were losing entrants due to escalating costs. Though short in numbers, still controlled the racing community in New England. Arute knew that other area tracks would be hard pressed to campaign for a more cost efficient set of rules. He used his own track to start a new modified series known as "SK's" and pressured for a "Touring" concept utilizing costlier cars. The NASCAR Featherlite Tour was endorsed by NASCAR and began operation. Despite increased purses for the Tour part of the Tour community played upon fans and media to force Arute to reverse his decision.
Fans displayed their dismay with Arute's "SK" Modified® division and threw their early support to the Tour dissidents. Undaunted, Stafford set out on their new direction. The Tour remained part of Stafford's annual schedule but faced repeated accusations that Arute "threw the modifieds out"
Some 10 years after their inception, Arute's plan has gained acceptance. Now both the Tour and the weekly modifieds co-exist and drivers often switch back and forth between the two with much success.
In 1989, Jack Arute, Sr. handed the reigns of the track over to his son Mark with an admonition to protect its heritage and move it forward. Under Mark's guidance, the track focuses upon the next millennium with a plan that will see Stafford set the standard by which all other NASCAR Short tracks will be measured.
In 1997, a 270,000 watt state-of-the art MUSCO lighting system was erected. The system is the same as that used at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bristol International Raceway, and Florida Field. The world leader in acoustics and public address systems, Bose, selected Stafford as a research and design facility and maintains an 8,400 watt sound system that is more powerful than the system in the Fleet Center, the new home of the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins.
Also in 1997, Stafford Motor Speedway resurfaced the entire 1/2 mile speedway. A resurfacing will enable the speedway to accomplish even greater feats in the pending twenty-first century.
A multipurpose Media Facility stands sentry over the famous half mile and the track is completely wired for national Television coverage. Future plans call for increased stadium seating, luxury sky boxes and computerized scoring and information display boards.
The new Stafford Speedway remains like the old Stafford Speedway. When the old Agricultural Park opened its gates in 1870 it was considered on the cutting edge. The horses are gone as are most of the produce and agricultural displays. In their place are 21st century programs. The thread remains. One of excitement and a commitment to excellence!